Are You Point Chasing?
cern. But when the majority of the pace slows down and enables more than 30 percent of the field to score 20-point
results — which occurred in several races last spring — that’s highly likely to be blatant penalty manipulation, say
How the Current Points System Works
The USSA Classification Committee commissioned a study in 2010 to determine if low-penalty races provide a
scoring advantage. After analyzing 900 races and more than 13,000 starts, the overwhelming conclusion is that
athletes do not score better in low-penalty races than they do in higher penalty races. In other words, the penalty
does not necessarily determine your result. Obviously, a racer with low-seed points needs a low-penalty race to
score. But the majority of racers score similar results in higher-penalty races as well.
We’ve all heard stories about races where the pace athletes skied slowly and created a substantial scoring opportunity. This can happen simply with a top skier having a bad run but can also occur when the same elite athlete
consciously skis slowly to alter the penalty, the race points and create a scoring opportunity for the rest of the field.
A single elite racer skiing below his points may not affect the penalty that much. But penalty manipulation occurs
when several top athletes ski well below their level and get beat by racers with substantially higher seed points.
These races are now easy to spot in the USSA database using the results of the Classification Committee’s 2010
study. Fortunately, these races are rare and do not discredit the USSA scoring system, but they are a clear indication of penalty manipulation.
Points Are Not All That Matters
The ski racing community knows that point profiles run the show. Your point profile determines how you advance
in the sport and make it to the next level, whether qualifying for the U.S. Ski Team, a regional team or an NCAA
team; or being invited to a camp. The USST recognizes this and has made changes to selection criteria. Coaches
are now selecting athletes based on other characteristics.
Last winter, the men’s C and D teams offered tryout camps at the end of the season during which coaches ended up
selecting several athletes who would not have otherwise qualified based on point-focused criteria. UVM Catamount
Robby Kelley qualified for the U.S. Ski Team based on his performance at the tryout — not his point profile — and
would not have made criteria based on his world ranking otherwise. Kelley has nearly cut his points in half and is
in the running for the NorAm giant slalom title this season. This is a great example, say officials, of an athlete with
potential to ski at a level not represented by his point profile.
Head U.S. Ski Team men’s coach Sasha Rearick says the focus should never be about point rank; the focus should
be to achieve a certain skill. “We look at the complete athlete in terms of fitness and technical abilities,” he says.
“Our goal is to improve the athlete as a skier — points are such a minor thing in the big scheme of it. Yes, points
are how you get into races and get other opportunities, but if you focus on the right things you will get the results. If
you improve your technical/tactical skills and your ability to compete, then the points will come by themselves. So
everybody — athletes, parents and coaches — must focus on the athlete’s skiing and what makes them ski fast and
forget about points.”
There are those who simply can’t put
the pedal to the metal in the spring.